The existential crisis facing sucklers dominated the questions and answers session at the Cavan IFA AGM on Monday night.
In front of a good attendance at the Lavey Inn the night began with a presentation by Chairperson Elizabeth Ormiston, who was re-elected to the county’s top post unopposed before President Joe Healy fielded questions from the floor.
The beleaguered beef sector was on the tip of everyone’s tongue. A frustrated Terry Byrne of Kill Branch noted the market share of processors Dawn Meats, ABP and Kepak and observed: “It’s very hard to see how we are ever going anywhere with beef when they have feedlots everywhere... and to think we’re farmers here looking for a small rise, and we can’t get it. They’re laughing at us.”
Joe Healy noted there isn’t a “farmer board” when negotiating with factories, and as such “it’s very, very hard to do anything with them”.
He contrasted his experience of dealing with the beef sector as compared to dairy duringlast August and September’s tough times.
“The co-ops then were trying to give that extra cent, trying to work with farmers through credit cases, extend the period and were trying to source fodder; at the same time, despite the fact that [beef] price was increasing in the UK, our largest market, the Irish factories here dropped the price by between €80-€100.”
He viewed this as “despicable” adding: “They really kicked their loyal suppliers, when their loyal suppliers were down.”
This statement sparked the question by John Beglan of Mullahoran branch who reflected on the “by and large pretty good job” undertaken by dairy co-ops, and asked if there is a role for the IFA to “encourage and develop co-ops” in the beef trade to stop beef farmers from being “price takers”.
Joe Healy didn’t warm to the suggestion. Earlier he had played devil’s advocate when he noted that EU markets “were tough”.
He observed there has been “no let up on the kill” with over 37,000 kills in each of the last three weeks; seven of he last eight weeks in late 2018 the kill rate was over 40,000.
Pat Clarke of Crossdoney branch cited the reported average kill of 6,314 cattle from 338 Irish feedlots in 2018.
“The feedlot unit beef shouldn’t be on the same tray as the beef where the cattle is reared off the grass. I think that’s an outrageous scandal – why can you not come up with some plan like Tony O’Reilly did years ago in marketing butter under the Kerrygold brand? Can we not find a brand for this quality beef?”
The president said the feedlot figures were open to misinterpretation, and surprisingly added opinions on feedlots were divided within the IFA. He recalled how some farmers were telling him they were happy to get the trade from feedlots, in selling livestock or fodder.
A member of Mullagh Branch told Monday’s meeting that he felt he was being short changed in the grading system, and wondered: is this grid calibrated by anybody?
Mr Healy suggested expanding the role of the personnel recently recruited to oversee the trim.
“It would be great if those 150 going in could have some sort of observation as well over the grid, and grading and the images that are taken.”
Seamus O’Reilly of Arva/Gowna branch expressed his disappointment with IFA hierarchy claiming: “We seem to be still supporting the big recipients of the Single Farm Payment”.
He noted how powerful meat companies are drawing down large payments, while “the small little struggling farmer in Cavan is only getting peanuts, and yet at headquarters we seem to be supporting those bigger recipients in the redesign of CAP”.
Joe Healy insisted that they are fighting for “genuine farmers” in the CAP reform.
“It’s a very clear view in the IFA that Larry Goodman, Sheikh Mohammad, Coolmore stud or their likes are not ‘genuine farmers’.”
“The Department doesn’t want to know about it – they are saying it’s hard to define ‘a genuine farmer’, but we aren’t accepting that.
“They are not the type of people that CAP was set up for,” he claimed, and added in his opinion that “what they are getting should be used as part of the convergence”.